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Creature comforts: how to become comfortable in discomfort

It’s no secret that success lies just outside of your comfort zone. But how can something that feels so wrong, actually be right?

It’s no secret that success lies just outside of your comfort zone. There are TED talks and motivational posters lurking in every corner of the internet pleading us to become comfortable in our discomfort. But how can something that feels so wrong, actually be right?

In the zone

Comfort zones have been described as a behavioural state of reduced stress, low anxiety, and regular happiness. While that might sound good, the reality is that the comfort zone is often just boredom in a ball gown. It’s vanilla ice cream everyday, a never ending straight road, months and months of blue skies with no sign of rain. Ever. It can be nice at first, but after a while it becomes a bit… meh.

Bored to death

While safety and boredom can seem like a luxury after a prolonged period of change, studies have shown that being bored for too long can shed years from our lives. Boredom was the number one predictor of alcohol, cigarette and drug use in teens in one South African study. Other researchers have said it is also the emotion most likely to induce cravings for sweet foods, and to lead to apathy. Another study found that participants preferred to self-administer an electric shock than be left alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes, giving more weight to how dangerous boredom can be for our well being.

Stressed for success

Back in 1908 psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson stated that relative comfort produced steady results. So for growth and innovation to be possible we need to exist in a space of slightly heightened stress and anxiety. Numerous studies have shown that existing in a state of discomfort increases productivity, innovative thinking, and creativity.

Perhaps the greatest asset of pushing ourselves is that old adage; practice makes perfect. Our brains are a library of all of our previous experiences. Every time you survive something that made you anxious, your brain catalogues that experience. The more discomfort we experience now, the less anxious change will make us in the future.

But remember that as with all good things, moderation is key. Not enough anxiety makes us stagnate, but too much anxiety causes us to freeze, resulting in plummeting productivity.

Harnessing optimal anxiety

The best way to achieve your dreams is to actively work towards making them a reality and accepting that it isn’t always going to be pleasant. Here are a few ways to get comfortable with discomfort.

  • Start making small changes — Take a different route to work, order something different for lunch, or strike up a conversation with a stranger.
  • Make snap decisions and trust yourself — It's easy to get lost in an endless cycle of weighing up options. In this endless to and fro sometimes nothing gets done at all. Start that project you've been dreaming of or sign up for the course you’ve wanted to do for years.
  • The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time — Break big things down into small, easily digestible chunks and commit to starting. Don’t be afraid to go slow, just as long as you're moving in the right direction.

Are you ready to achieve big things? Check out our information for career changers to find out how we can push you out of your comfort zone.